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Re: The Number That's Devouring Science

I do not have a subscription but would be interested in the list's opinion
on this.  I personally think it is an anachronism in the same way that, to
some extent, journals are an anachronism, that is the unit of search is
subject, author, etc. not journal but interested in any thoughts on this.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

"Hamaker, Chuck" <cahamake@email.uncc.edu>
Sent by: owner-liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
10/10/05 08:43 PM
To <liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu>
Subject:  The Number That's Devouring Science

Chronicle of Higher Education
>From the issue dated October 14, 2005
(must have subscription to access article)

The Number That's Devouring Science

The impact factor, once a simple way to rank scientific journals, has
become an unyielding yardstick for hiring, tenure, and grants


In the beginning, during the late 1950s, it was just an innocent idea in
Eugene Garfield's head. A Philadelphia researcher who described himself as
a "documentation consultant," Mr. Garfield spent his free time thinking
about scientific literature and how to mine information from it.

He eventually dreamed up something he called an "impact factor,"
essentially a grading system for journals, that could help him pick out
the most important publications from the ranks of lesser titles. To
identify which journals mattered most to scientists, he proposed tallying
up the number of citations an average article in each journal received.

This accounting method sounds harmless enough. Outside academe, few people
have even heard of it. Mr. Garfield, though, now compares his brainchild
to nuclear energy: a force that can help society but can unleash mayhem
when it is misused.

Indeed, impact factors have assumed so much power, especially in the past
five years, that they are starting to control the scientific enterprise.
In Europe, Asia, and, increasingly, the United States, Mr. Garfield's tool
can play a crucial role in hiring, tenure decisions, and the awarding of

"The impact factor may be a pox upon the land because of the abuse of that
number," says Robert H. Austin, a professor of physics at Princeton

Impact-factor fever is spreading, threatening to skew the course of
scientific research, say critics. Investigators are now more likely to
chase after fashionable topics - the kind that get into high-impact
journals - than to follow important avenues that may not be the flavor of
the year, says Yu-Li Wang, a professor of physiology at the University of
Massachusetts Medical School. "It influences a lot of people's research

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